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District Commissioners, or DCs, were the local instruments of British colonial power until 1964 [CHECK]. “Bwana DC” masks, meaning “Boss DC,” were used for ridicule and the dramatization of political conflicts. Their deviation from the ideal Maravi face is obvious when compared with the idealized Nkhalamba (“Old Man”) mask (#MB5). This DC mask, collected in the Chewa area in the 1960s, was named Bwana Evani and depicts a particularly terrible DC, Evan Pearse-Johnson, who held office from 1938-1954.
“Dona” is the name given to masks representing white women, whose appearance and behaviors are contrasted with Maravi women in the Nyau Society. Among the Chewa, Dona masks were also used in positive contexts. This mask was documented in the highly sacred contexts of spirit recall, spirit possession, funerals, and ceremonies for rain and agriculture.
Male masks called Simoni, such as this, and female masks called Maliya (see MB16) were used in anti-Christian parodies of the apostle Simon and the Virgin Mary. Depending on context, it is conceivable that these masks could also have been used to praise certain Christian viewpoints where they might suit the purpose of Nyau or serve a local political agenda.
This Chewa mask represents a Ngoni warrior, distinguished by his ostrich feather plume. It is a variant of a highly aggressive and beligerant mask type, called Nkhokomba. The collection notes from 1971 state that this mask was used to recall the spirits of the Ngoni enemies of the 1800s for the purpose of ridicule, but the mask was regarded as so powerful that it could even harm the dancer who wore it.
This type of elaborately feathered mask was used for the recall of spirits. Called Nchawa in the Chewa area, it is a quintessential Nyau type. Its sacred nature and function are expressed by the combination of red, black, and white, which are symbolically loaded in ancestral rituals throughout central and southern Africa.
The extraordinary power of this Muslim character is implied by its head cover of lion skin, since Chewa chiefs were associated with lions. Although the Maravi were decimated by the Arab slave trade, a mask such as this might also have been used to impart positive messages. This mask, collected among the Chewa in the 1970s, also could have referred to Indian traders in Malawi.
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